Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition could be the unexpected party hit of the summer | Hands-on preview

by on June 26, 2024

For those of a certain age, the thought of a Nintendo themed video game tournament is an evocative one, borne of the cult 1989 movie The Wizard. Nintendo has held actual tournaments dating back to 1990, and even dipped their toe back into the competitive scene with their foray into eSports in 2017, and the forthcoming Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition is a heady mixture of party game, speed running, and challenges that captures the spirit of 1989 rather nicely, all put together with the kind of superlative production values we have come to expect from the developer, steeped in reverence to some of their all-time classic NES titles.

We got to experience it along with a group of people, who all soon became sworn rivals once we got going into the innately competitive multiplayer action. The first thing that was noticeable was that some of the folk present were not even around to remember the games when they first released, ageing me rather noticeably – but there is a strange, unquantifiable familiarity about the way Nintendo do things that instantly placed everyone, strangely, on a level playing field – even if it’s just the rock-hard challenge of trying to complete The Lost Levels as a determined, yet overmatched youngster.

Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition

There is a varied clutch of games on offer. The first three canon Mario titles, along with the aforementioned Lost Levels are all present and correct, along with the brace of 8-bit Zelda games. Joining them are standalone titles like Balloon Fight, Kid Icarus, Ice Climber, Kirby’s Adventure, Excitebike, Donkey Kong, and of course Metroid.

Initially you are asked to select an avatar, as well as a tagline and a favourite NES title, a bit like when you set up your profile on a fighting game. The list of tags is immense, but even I was shocked by the sheer number of NES – and Famicom – titles that you are able to select from. The shmup nerd in me erred toward Image Fight – a game that probably nobody else in the room had heard of. Once this part is done it is into the action with a plethora of speed-run challenges to attempt that range from extremely short (enter the cave with Link, grab the sword) to more lengthy sorties such as completing a whole Mario level.

Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition

There are handy on-screen prompts with regards to how to control the challenges, and in the case of the lengthier variations there are brilliant illustrated guides that give you hints and tips as to how to best traverse the level and shave time off of your personal best. Doing just that, and achieving the much coveted S-rank quickly becomes ludicrously compulsive, something I discovered after a very short period of time. You will quickly find yourself in a desperate struggle to land pixel-perfect jumps, or use button press timing to control the inertia of your Balloon fighter.

Beating levels in Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition awards in-game currency – which are of course SMB coins – which can them be used to unlock more and more of the excellently designed microgames. You can compete against ghosts of speed-runs past in handy splitscreen mode. It is addictive and well implemented, and for veterans it is actually ridiculous how long-dormant ancient muscle memory kicks in and you realise how hugely familiar you are with certain segments of these games. I found that one particular stage which involves snaring a Super Leaf in Super Mario Bros. 3 was my speciality, S ranking it immediately and surprising myself with the dexterity I recalled after all these years.

Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition

Other games, however, are hard as nails and have aged in a way that some modern gamers may find them a difficult prospect particularly when you have to learn to beat them to progress and unlock all that the game has to offer. Ice Climber – never a favourite of mine, had several present stumped with the jump physics and has not aged well. Similarly, Donkey Kong, whilst on the surface a simple prospect, can be frustratingly difficult in practice, especially the cruel way you have to fully ascend ladders with that horrifying delay at the top which always seemed to get me into trouble. Kirby? Yeah he is cute, but damn that game is trickier than I remember. Having to transform into a fireball to traverse a spiky pit may be ok when you aren’t up against the clock, but under pressure it is a different story.

This is a game that will truly come into its own in a multiplayer setting, with an excellent multi-screen mode where you have to perform well enough to make a “cut” as the participants are whittled down; the Party Mode sets up to 8 challengers in local multiplayer. A bit like Mario Kart, your placement determines your post-challenge score award, with the highest score after five challenges the victor. While I didn’t win the tournament, I still beat everyone on the Super Leaf one, mind. Going forward there will be functional online tournaments with rotating weekly challenges, and online leaderboards, something I am looking forward to participating in. Dropping for a budget price point, this is likely to become the unexpected party hit of the summer and an excellently timed dose of prime Nintendo nostalgia.

Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition is coming to Nintendo Switch on July 18th.